Bob Hill returns after an epic shopping spree. Enchantment overtakes him.
Few of us tillers of the soil plan on visiting the same garden center four times in five hours. My previous record was two trips – and with a few hours in-between.
But we all get that gnawing feeling – especially in old age – to never leave anything truly desired behind. As in never. What is worse than going back to the nursery to learn something on your newly created plant lust list is gone, and probably just out the door.
Part of my problem was I wasn’t certain what that plant lust list should include. It was particularly important to get it right because this job was the volunteer planting of our small-town, Utica Indiana Memorial Garden. It is a community centerpiece of sorts—six-foot brick walls curled around a raised bed garden at a four-stop-sign intersection created to honor the many who served from a small place. Half the town goes past every day— coming and going. The other half will wander by tomorrow.
Several of us took over the memorial garden care and maintenance about ten years ago when the previous designer’s concept of hostas in baked-clay soil and full sun wasn’t quite as fulfilling or patriotic as required.
My first thought back then, and all the rage in those days, was to plant a double row of “Knockout Roses,” once heralded as the perpetual answer to all rose bacteria and bug issues.
Regular maintenance is always the answer with queenly roses. No such regular hands existed at the time. Ragged, bug-infested ugly ruled. Community pride was at stake. So, this year – and on Fourth of July weekend, yet – it was “Off with their heads.” If we were going to have disease and bugs issues, they would come with a different class of plants.
We dispatched about eight of those gangly, bug-infested shrubs to Over-Rated Rose Heaven. The immediate effect being the remaining yellow marigolds and red dianthus were trying, but reinforcements were badly needed for the full John Phillips Sousa effect.
The marigolds were moved to the top of the circular bed, joining a lively festival of yellow-gold lantana at altitude. Then it was off to Lowe’s – I said “functional” not exotic – for a quick, mid-summer fixup.
All went well at first. Lowe’s was having a we-gotta-get-this-water-needy stuff out of here sale with decent perennials; three for $10. Its four-inch annuals were mildly outrageous; three for $12.
The Fourth of July dictated the purchases. Angelonia ‘Angel Mist’ covered the blue. The Gaura ‘Whirling Butterflies’ promised a little more red and white. Toss in some red and white annual vinca, some pinkish-white Phlox paniculata—‘Bright Eyes’ and ‘Laura’ —and the whole memorial garden would hum red, white, blue, lavender-purple and, OK, pink. Why be a slave to a holiday color scheme?
I had done all this without properly calculating what was truly needed in our community garden, whose 20-foot, parallel rows ran into yellow Stella de Oro daylilies before taking a right turn into massive ninebark bushes.
I had purchased some plants very early that morning, but the scheme wasn’t working. On my second trip to Lowe’s about 45 minutes later I bought what I thought would be enough vinca and phlox to handle the community garden trick.
It wasn’t near enough. Those good volunteers left behind had properly cleaned the beds of weeds, moved those marigolds to the top to dance with the lantana and there was still way too much space.
It was back to Lowe’s 20 minutes later for the third morning trip, this time finding red, white and blue vinca in long trays; smaller in size but once full grown would cover the spaces. Alas, while there, I came across some containers of Coreopsis ‘Enchanted Eve’ from the L’il Bang™ Series. (More bang for the buck!) It looked like it needed a home and was nicely described as being “covered with attractive butter-yellow blossoms adorned with a soft burgundy heart.”
Right. Very patriotic.
So, confession time, while hunting for community garden plants, I gave my soft burgundy heart to ‘Enchanted Eve’ and bought three for my home garden. I already had enough yellow for the memorial crowd.
And all the way home I kept asking myself if I liked ‘Enchanted Eve’ so much why the hell hadn’t I bought five. I had violated my own Old Guy Code, and you always buy plants in odd numbers because that way nurseries sell more stuff.
We quickly finished the community garden – it looks good and will only get better, thank you. Yet all through lunch I brooded about going back buying two more Enchanted Eves; the plant lust list at work. There was no denying the passion. I hurried back – the fourth trip in five hours – and hustled over to the coreopsis section.
There was only one ‘Enchanted Eve’ left. The nice clerk shrugged her shoulders and said she would look for one more.
Former Louisville Courier-Journal columnist Bob Hill wrote more than 4,000 columns and feature stories, about ten books and several angry letters to bill collectors in his 33 years at the paper. He and his wife, Janet, are former guides and caretakers of Hidden Hill Nursery and Garden in Utica, IN., a home-made, eight-acre arboretum, art mecca and source of enormous fun, whimsy, rare plants and peace for all who showed up. Bob’s academic honors include being the tallest kid in his class 12 years in a row.